Greening Your IT Through Your Software Choices
Computers and servers can consume a tremendous amount of natural resources. David Deal and the Green IT Consortium take a look the software that can help you reduce your environmental footprint.
Do your software choices affect the environment? They might. Computers and servers can consume a tremendous amount of natural resources, both through their manufacturing and the power they require to run day in and day out. Improperly disposing of old computers can have a significant negative environmental impact, as well. The carbon footprint of IT equipment in the United States is roughly equal to that of the U.S. airline industry, and growing rapidly, so there’s an environmental imperative for those who recommend and make IT decisions to look for ways to implement IT in a way that is less detrimental to the environment.
The opportunity to reduce environmental impact is not all that’s driving the growing interest in “green IT,” though. There’s a confluence of other opportunities, including cost savings and good technology, that makes it compelling. Additional external factors like the Federal government's increasing focus on related incentives and regulations may also be relevant for some organizations. Many green changes can be implemented in ways that don’t require the majority of staff members to change their habits, removing what is often a significant obstacle to other greening efforts.
How can you use software to enable more efficient, environmentally friendly IT? In this article, we round up some common examples.
Desktop Power Management
Want to reduce the amount of electricity used by each computer? Desktop Power Management (DPM) software enables computers to automatically go into an energy efficient “sleep mode,” or “hibernation,” when not in use. In these energy-saving modes a computer uses less than a couple of watts of electricity, compared to the 65 watts or more used during normal usage.
DPM software typically reduces computer power consumption by 30-60 percent, and pays for itself within a few months to a year. Free versions are available, but they’re designed for home use and do not provide the capabilities needed for centralized network management.
Operating Systems such as Windows have power management options built in, though functionality falls short of that offered by third-party DPM applications such as Faronics PowerSave or Verdiem Surveyor. Alternatively, modules for network management software such as Kaseya can help coordinate power management with software update schedules and help avoid conflicts with certain applications.
Although DPM software does represent an additional application for the IT team to manage, it reduces energy consumption, ultimately resulting in financial and environmental savings.
One of the biggest opportunities for decreasing an organization’s power and equipment usage is through the use of hosted software. Also known as cloud computing, Software As A Service and ASPss (Application Service Providers), "hosted software" refers to the use of software and data that is hosted on a vendor’s servers and accessed over the Internet rather than installed on a desktop computer or an in-house server. This model offers significant environmental advantages, and typically also simplifies IT administration.
When organizations run their own software on in-house servers, the servers often are inefficient, with utilization somewhere between just 5 percent and 20 percent. With cloud computing, multiple organizations share the same servers, increasing utilization significantly and making it a more efficient use of hardware resources.
You’ll find a hosted option of just about every category of software in use at nonprofits, including software applications such as Salesforce, Convio, Gmail, Google Apps, Zoho, hosted Microsoft Exchange and hosted Quickbooks. Even Microsoft is making a play into the cloud computing space with its Office Live offering.
Another way to make IT practices more green is to use virtualization software to reduce the need for physical resources.
When installed on a computer, an Operating System (like Windows) typically works by communicating directly with the hardware—the hard drives, memory, and processor. This is true both of the individual computers at each desk in an organization, and of the organization’s servers. Traditionally, organizations have separate computer servers for each of their needs—for example, a mail server, a file server and a database server—with each server running its own Operating System on its own physical machine. Industry groups like Techrepublic estimate that individual servers use as little as 5 percent of their processing power even though they’re draining resources by being plugged in and charged 24 hours a day.
Virtualization software, however, enables a single physical machine to act as several virtual machines. This means you can install multiple Operating Systems on a single physical computer by managing and sharing the machine’s hardware and resources among them—effectively creating multiple “virtual computers.” There’s no visible difference to other applications or to users.
By combining multiple servers into one single physical server, you minimize the demand for physical resources. Since it makes more efficient use of hardware resources, it is significantly more energy efficient. Virtualization has also gained widespread acceptance in IT circles because it provides new IT administration capabilities while reducing the cost of both hardware purchases and network administration.
Let’s take a look at the different types of virtualization that are possible.
When your IT person or a vendor refers to virtualization, they’re probably talking about server virtualization, as in the example above. Though the technology has been around for a while, it has matured over the past several years and is now in widespread use.
VMWare is an early leader in this space with its ESX and free ESXi virtualization software. Another option is Microsoft’s Virtual Server 2005, which has been offered for several years as a free download to run on Microsoft Server 2003. Microsoft recently released Hyper-V, also free, as its next-generation Virtual Server platform. Citrix offers its XenServer virtualization platform, and open source virtualization software is also available, including products such as Virtual Box and OpenVZ.
More recently, the concept of virtualization has begun to focus on the tremendous potential for replacing power-hungry desktop computers with more energy-efficient computing alternatives. As with server virtualization, this allows for more efficient use of hardware resources and simplifies administration and overall hardware costs.
Essentially, this technology lets you host multiple users’ desktop Operating Systems and applications on a single physical machine - a server. Users access the same applications and desktop from various computer terminals within the organization, or, in many cases, from any Internet-connected computer — thus supporting telecommuting as well. Another option to access the virtual desktop is called a “thin client”—basically a bare-bones computer that relies on the server for processing power, and therefore requires minimal hardware resources. Without hard drives or cooling fans, thin clients typically need less than one-tenth the electricity of their desktop counterparts. For more information about thin clients, check out the devices available from Wyse, Pano Logic, NComputing, Sun and others.
In most cases, desktop virtualization uses the same software as server virtualization. A similar technology, known as a “terminal server,” is provided by companies such as Citrix and Microsoft and open source software like 2X Terminal Server for Linux. Terminal server technology works better to provide all users with a more uniform application and desktop environment than virtual desktops, which are better suited to provide team- or user-specific applications to a sizable number of users.
What Provides the Biggest Bang for the Buck?
If your organization is not already using one or more of these technologies, where should you start? Which will offer the greatest return on investment, both financially and environmentally? There’s no one right answer—this decision truly depends on your organization’s specific environment.
If your organization has a lot of desktops that can not easily be replaced with laptops—or even better, thin clients run in conjunction with virtual desktop software or terminal servers—then desktop power management software may offer the greatest savings. At an average savings of approximately $30-$50 per desktop, per year, and an initial cost of only $10-$25 per desktop, DPM software offers a very quick return on investment.
If your organization has several in-house servers that can be consolidated virtually onto a single physical server, then server virtualization may offer the greatest ROI. Smaller organizations commonly consolidate up to five servers, saving on capital expenditures, IT support costs and cooling costs for each physical server replaced virtually.
Hosted software is another way to eliminate one or more in-house servers. Although the total cost of ownership should be carefully examined, this solution certainly offers environmental savings, and has the added bonus of simplifying administration of your organization’s IT environment.
For More Information
David Deal is founder and CEO of Community IT Innovators and Chairman of Virsant. He leads Community IT in providing comprehensive technology support and consulting to social mission organizations and is passionate about creating and building social ventures that help create a better world. The Green IT Consortium is a group of IT practitioners, consulting companies, vendors, design firms, non-profit IT professionals and others committed to greening the non-profit technology sector.
With contributions from Anna Jaeger of Techsoup, Peter Campbell of Earthjustice, Steve Longenecker of Community IT Innovators, and Ann Yoders of the Green IT Consortium.